An exceedingly rare bit of political timing has lined up a trifecta of a Montana U.S. Senate election, a U.S. Presidential election and a Supreme Court Justice nomination all at the same time this fall.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, met with a group of women business leaders in Kalispell on Thursday to talk about the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Daines was eager to show his support for Barrett as he is up for re-election and is being challenged by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, in a race polls say is close. Bullock and Daines have starkly differing stances on the nomination as it comes in the final weeks of an election.
Daines was joined by Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican.
Daines said he’s been impressed with how Barrett balances civic duty and raising seven school-aged children.
“I call her the mini-van mom, and she is going to be the next Supreme Court Justice,” Daines said. “She will be the first working mom justice in the history of the Supreme Court, with school-aged children…she’s a cool-handed, poised mom, she’s proud of her family. She’s the kind of person who I want to see on the Supreme Court. She reflects who we are as Americans.”
Daines also noted that because Barrett is only 48, if she lives as long as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she’ll serve on the court until the year 2060. Daines said if that happens, Barrett will have a huge impact on the country and called her a “brilliant jurist."
Daines and Bullock sparred in their last debate about Barrett’s nomination. Bullock has said the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate should wait until after the election to nominate a new justice, as the Republican-controlled Senate did when former Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016.
When Barrett was nominated, Bullock said the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a case in early November that challenge the Affordable Care Act. Bullock said Barrett’s confirmation “could threaten protections for 152,000 Montanans with preexisting health conditions, gut our Medicaid expansion that covers nearly one-in-10 Montanans, and risk critical drug benefits that our seniors rely on to lower the cost of prescription drugs.”
"The stakes of this case are enormous for Montana’s access to health care, especially in the middle of a global pandemic,“ Bullock said, according to the Great Falls Tribune. "To rush through the confirmation process in violation of this precedent (of waiting until after an election) would only worsen our deep political divides while jeopardizing hundreds of thousands of Montanans’ access to health care."
In the debate with Daines, Bullock also said he’s open to the idea of Democrats adding justices to the Supreme Court if the party wins the White House and wins enough seats to hold a majority in the U.S Senate.
“We need to figure out the ways to actually get the politics out of the court,” Bullock said according to the Associated Press. “That’s anything from a judicial standards commission, or we’ll look at any other thing that might be suggested, including adding justices.”
Daines told the group on Thursday that he’s hoping to keep Republican control of the Senate.
“The court-packing threat is very real,” he said. “I think we’ve got 151 years of precedent of operating with nine justices. So this is really starting to reconstruct the Constitutional Republic that makes the court, then, just another branch for the Legislature.”
Daines said it was a “chilling moment” for him to realize Democrats are serious about adding another justice.
“They’re gonna do it if they get power,” he said. Daines said that he believes that Democrat opposition to the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh “backfired” on them and cost them politically. He said he believes the opposition cost Democrats “a couple” U.S. Senate seats. The Democratic party won a large majority in the U.S. House in the 2018 mid-term elections following Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but Republicans maintained a slim lead in control of the U.S. Senate.
The five women who met with Daines and Fox all expressed support for Barrett.
Robin Benson, the Clerk and Recorder for Lincoln County, said Barrett seems “honorable.”
“When I think of who I want on the Supreme Court, that comes down to one thing,” Benson said. “Will they uphold the Constitution? All the other stuff is great, but that’s what I care about."